12 Aug 2011

Indianapolis recently commemorated the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act with the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Disability’s Access and Inclusion Awards. For the last several years, this annual awards ceremony honors individuals, businesses and organizations that promote enhanced access and quality of life for people with disabilities.

The list of local award recipients who have contributed to greater access and inclusion is both long and diverse. Previous honorees include the Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana’s Sports Program, CICOA’s Lifelong Living Community Initiative, and the Indiana School for the Deaf’s “Vibrations” program.

This year, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis received the Accessibility Award. I have been privileged to work with the Museum’s president, Jeff Patchen, and the director of exhibit development, Jennifer Pace-Robinson, over the years. Under their leadership, The Children’s Museum has made a concerted effort to develop an inclusive and seamless museum that everyone can participate in, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.

I have written before about how The Children’s Museum is accommodating to all guests, including the personal recollections of staff members who have observed parents, children and grandparents with disabilities enjoying the many unique and customized exhibits. From a personal standpoint, the Museum is committed to ensuring a fully inclusive experience, and even has included accessibility checklists into their exhibit design and development process. They are most deserving of this recognition.

While the annual Access and Inclusion Awards have evolved into the leading event for the Indianapolis disability community, it’s important to note that Indianapolis has made accessibility and inclusion an important part of city policy for decades. Before the ADA even was enacted, local disability activists led by James K. Pauley, founded the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Disability in the ’70s. The Council, which works directly with the Mayor’s Office of Disability Affairs, is a key stakeholder in ensuring our city, its assets, and amenities are accessible for everyone. This work was recognized by a much wider audience in 2009, when the National Organization on Disability awarded Indianapolis with its Accessible America Award, touting the City as the nation’s leader in accessible environments.

The awards remind us that we have much to celebrate. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. We may have made significant headway into ensuring physical accessibility, yet we now face an even greater challenge. Working together, we must find new and creative solutions to solving the employment gap for people with disabilities, particularly those individuals with college educations and other advanced degrees. I hope you’ll join me in getting to work.

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